The mutation was identified in patients with a disease known as ocular coloboma, which causes part of the eye to be missing at birth. The findings shed light on its causes and help to explain how genes contribute to development of the eye, researchers say.
The research team — lead by the University of Edinburgh — worked with 12 families, studying the DNA of children with coloboma and their unaffected parents. Using state-of-the-art genetic screening — known as whole exome sequencing — the scientists revealed mutations in 10 genes, three of which were linked to activity of one molecule.
The molecule — known as actin — is important to a number of vital cell functions, including maintenance of the cytoskeleton, which defines cell shape and structure. Targeted gene sequencing was then carried out on a further 380 people with coloboma. This showed that one of the mutations — a specific alteration in the gene ACTG1 — recurred across a number of those tested.
Dr Joe Rainger, Fight for Sight Early Career Investigator Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, said: “Coloboma can have profound effects on visual ability, but it is very variable and therefore likely to be caused by a number of genes.” Our work adds knowledge to our understanding of its onset as well as the importance of actin to eye development.”